Legal scholars have a saying that hard cases make bad law. Political scientists should have a version that says hard times make bad policies.
Bend, like the rest of the country, is in the midst of some hard times and they're likely to get even harder. To help them figure out how to help the local economy, three of Bend's city councilors-elect - Jeff Eager, Tom Greene and Kathie Eckman - decided to hold a "forum" last week with local business leaders.
Their motive might have been noble, but their method wasn't.
To begin with, it doesn't appear that any worthwhile new ideas emerged from the 40 or so businesspersons who attended. According to news accounts, the meeting seems to have been mostly a bitch session at which the business leaders voiced standard and familiar themes: "All our problems are the fault of Big Bad Government" and "Whatever you do to help the economy, don't ask us to pay for it."
One businessman warned the incoming councilors not to even think about funding Bend's public transit system with any sort of payroll tax.
Councilor-elect Greene, who's also a real estate agent, lamented that city staff is looking too closely at developers' plans: "If a licensed engineer submits plans to the city for review, why are city staff tearing those plans apart?"
Well, maybe because that's their job, Tom.
Patrick Oliver, a downtown landlord and developer, complained about the high cost of city permits and fees: "No one can afford to develop downtown given what the fees are. You will shut down development."
It looks to us like development already is shut down, Pat - and has been since the real estate bubble popped.
But our bigger problem with the "forum" was the way it was held. It wasn't exactly a secret, but the councilors-elect didn't go out of their way to advertise it either. According to Eager, "We invited folks we just happened to know in the community." The fourth councilor-elect, Jodie Barram, wasn't told about the meeting until she already had another commitment that prevented her from attending.
Greene, Eager and Eckman didn't violate Oregon's open public meetings law because they won't be councilors until Jan. 5. But their get-together - especially with City Manager Eric King also present - clearly violated the spirit of the law, which is that government deliberations should be conducted in the light of day.
Also, why did they invite only business leaders to share their ideas about the economy? Don't ordinary working stiffs have a stake too? Eager says the new councilors want to hear from other groups as well - eventually - but no other forums are on their calendar.
Eckman, Greene and Eager already labor under the perception that they're the development lobby's hand-picked councilors because realtor and builder groups bankrolled their expensive campaigns. Holding a sort of cozy semi-private meeting with businesspersons doesn't do anything to dispel that perception.
However good their intentions, the three councilors-elect deserve - and hereby receive - THE BOOT for a gross lack of political sensitivity.